Weidner’s Words: Coaches in the NFL

The NFL season wrapped up with the Patriots on top once again, and as each team heads into the offseason, fans and analysts take a step back to look at the season as a whole. Scorching hot offensive play and record-high scoring characterized the 2018 NFL season, along with an uptick in ratings and the break-out of new budding stars, like Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and league MVP, Patrick Mahomes. However, one story that stands out and concerns many is the sudden and significant drop in the number of minority head coaches.

Last year, entering the season, there were eight minority head coaches out of 32 total teams, matching the record-high the league achieved back in 2011. But after five of those coaches were fired this year, the number sits at four, buoyed only by the Miami Dolphins’ hiring of former Patriots linebacker coach and defensive play caller, Brian Flores.

The number of minority coaches in the NFL, and the opportunities that are open to them, has long been a subject of scrutiny in the league, particularly given the fact that over 70 percent of the players in the league are from minority communities. The issue is regulated by a policy known as the Rooney Rule, which requires every team in the league to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching and senior football operations positions.

The Rooney Rule was instituted in 2003, but 16 years later, the issue is still a major problem. The interview process is often thought to be rigged, with minority candidates only being interviewed to fulfill the obligation, but never being considered seriously for the job.

Additionally, the pipeline that typically leads to coaching positions is skewed in its demographics. Only 30 percent of coaches who fill these positions are minorities. This divide is prevalent between defense and offense; 2018 showed the largest divide between the number of minority defensive coordinators versus offensive coordinators in history. This season there were 12 minority defensive coordinators, representing a record high, but there was only one minority offensive coordinator.

It is interesting to note that the coding of certain positions occurs at all levels within NFL franchises. The lack of diversity leaves minorities underrepresented in front offices. There has often been criticism of the barriers put up for black players entering the NFL in the quarterback position, a position historically dominated by white players. Lamar Jackson, winner of the 2016 Heisman Trophy, was surrounded by critics who claimed he should switch to the wide-receiver position in the NFL. It was not until Jackson took over under center for the Baltimore Ravens and won six of seven games that his abilities were no longer questioned. 

It seems that across the board, certain barriers are put up against minorities for positions of power within these organizations, despite the high levels of representation that minority players have in other parts of the league (for example, 80 percent of defensive players are black).

Some within the NFL have called for the strengthening of the Rooney Rule, but it is clear from the situation today, 16 years after its implementation, that the rule still isn’t working.